Rebuilding our own ‘Black Wall Street’ in St. Petersburg

Left to right: Gathering for lunch after the kick-off meeting at the new 22 South on the ground floor of the Manhattan Casino: Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, City of St. Petersburg Urban Affairs Director; Nicola Johnson, Owner & Architect, Arconial Architecture; Angela Williams, Project Coordinator, HORUS Construction; William Beard, Project Manager (Electrical), VoltAir; James Graham, Director of Operations, Horus Construction; Kenneth Roberts, Director of Mechanical Engineering, VoltAir; Harry Howard, Howard & Associates Architects; Ernest Coney, CEO, CDC of Tampa; and Tiffany Moore, Event Coordinator, One Community Plan


ST. PETERSBURG — “Rebuilding our own ‘Black Wall Street’ in St. Petersburg.” That was the vision cast for the Sankofa project by Albert Lee, CEO of the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation (also known as the BBIC), at last week’s Design Team Kick-Off for the Sankofa Project on the Deuces.

The BBIC is one of five non-profit organizations that comprise the Sankofa Vision Group, a co-development partner to the City of St. Petersburg in building the Sankofa project, which will bring new housing and about 30,000 square feet of commercial space to 2.8 acres front-facing the Deuces.

Lee was also one of 27 local leaders who traveled to Durham, N.C., in 2018 to tour its famous Black Wall Street and other equity initiatives, including the American Underground start-up incubator and co-working space. That was the facility that inspired the commercial part of the Sankofa project in St. Petersburg.

“That vision is well underway,” said Veatrice Farrell, executive director for The Deuces Live, who attended the kick-off session. “We have so many Deuces neighbors welcoming and supporting this alongside their own projects,” said Farrell. “The Woodson museum is a prime example, and is our hope that the design vision will be symbiotic with other projects nearby.”

The May 6 meeting was convened by the City of St. Petersburg’s project management team, led by Rob Gerdes, the Neighborhood Affairs director, and James Jackson, the city’s project manager for the Sankofa project.

Jackson, who chaired the convening, said, “It was important for us to layout the inspiration for this project as well as the design vision and technical aspects. What we build here has to be a reflection of what the community needs and will embrace.”

Also represented were HORUS Construction as prime contractor, Howard & Associates Architects, whose founder and principal Harry Howard was present, and Volt-Air, an award-winning firm that will handle mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering for the Sankofa project.

Jonathan Graham, CEO of HORUS, stressed the need for aggressive development concepts nearby, such as a hotel that can tie the corridor to Tropicana Field’s redevelopment and bring new traffic to the Deuces and surrounding areas.

Other HORUS staff on hand, included James Graham, construction manager, and Angela Williams, project coordinator and engineer.

Nikki Gaskin Capehart, the City of St. Petersburg’s Urban Affairs director, reminded attendees of the importance of engaging local pioneers such as Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy, who have been faithful commercial anchors for The Deuces for several years. The couple owns Chief’s Creole Café on the corner of Ninth Avenue South.

Dr. Han Reichgelt and realtor Shawntavia Turner spoke on behalf of Inclusivity, LLC, the firm handling commercial and housing marketing analyses for the project.

The Inclusivity team is gathering data from public and private sources to inform the types of housing units and business or workspaces most needed and viable for the location. The project site is diagonal across the street from the historic Manhattan Casino, in the 500 block of 22nd Street South.

The project team will host a community design discussion in the months ahead. Preliminary ideas have centered on affordable townhomes for the housing component of the project.

For commercial design, the team is reviewing concepts from well-known co-working and micro-space brands such as Rising Tide Innovation Center, the Station House, and Industrious, a national leader in co-working space that will soon open a facility in St. Petersburg.

The Sankofa Vision Group is also busy meeting with potential partners and space users. “One partnership that we’re passionate about is reviving legacy brands that could have a home on the Deuces once again,” said Watson Haynes, CEO of Pinellas County Urban League, one of the five Sankofa Vision Group members.

Haynes and others have already reached out to descendants of the Green’s Bakery, Sno- Peak, and Geech’s Bar-B-Q brand to discuss possibilities.

“The Sankofa project is an inspiration to folks on the other side of the bay,” said Ernest Coney, CEO of CDC of Tampa, a Sankofa Vision Group member. “We’re presenting this to East Tampa CRA board and advisory committee while also applying Tampa’s example in the area of minority business contracting as a focal point for the Sankofa project.”

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